Mama Went to Jail for the Vote - children's book review by P.J. Rooks
As you probably guessed from the title, this is a book about the women's suffrage movement but ladies, try not to let it make you too angry. We forget today what a difficult battle it was to fight the paternalism of the Victorian era and well, in having to hear about it, it is rather hard not to be offended. Here's an example:
"Sometimes Papa grinned and patted Mama when he got home from work.
"'How many votes did you round up today, my dear?' he'd ask. That usually made Mama sniff and storm off. But mainly Papa ignored the entire business and inquired about dinner.
'Did you help Cook to make the lovely roast I smell tonight, Susan Elizabeth? It's so nice to know that some women are still keeping the home fires burning. Always remember the important thing, daughter.'
'What would that be, Papa?'
'Why, keeping your papa happy, of course. Women were meant to be an ornament to man, and to comfort him after his labors.'"
Our heroine, Susan Elizabeth's mother, is a conglomerate, fictional creation that embodies the women and the history of the era. She rides in a parade to bring attention to her quest, and attention she gets -- in the form of rotten tomatoes and eggs!
This angers Susan Elizabeth who, even though she has been meticulously instructed that violence is to be avoided, can't resist throwing the eggs back at the jeering parade spectators.
Eventually, the women picket the White House with signs that read "Mr. President, How long must women wait for liberty?" or "Mr. President, WHAT will you do for women's suffrage?"
They are ignored for months on end by President Woodrow Wilson, but finally, during a send-off of soldiers for World War I, there is a scuffle, someone begins shooting at the ladies' banners, and Mama is arrested, despite her innocence.
Now little Susan Elizabeth has her moment of vindication with her dad.
That evening at supper...
"'Is Mama a criminal, Papa?' I asked.
'I should say not! She was merely expressing her American right to protest.'
'If she has the right to protest, why hasn't she the right to vote?'
Papa set down his fork to pull at his collar. 'Well, now --' He cleared his throat. 'Voting polls are not the nicest places for proper ladies to be.'
'Neither is jail, Papa. And if ladies went to vote, wouldn't the polling places become proper places to be?'
Papa didn't answer. He just shoved his plate away and waited for Mama."
Yeah, you tell him, Susan Elizabeth! That's girlpower for you!
Susan Elizabeth takes it upon herself to carry on the good fight of her mother's "Army of the Future" and joins the other ladies in front of the White House. Now this does get the president's attention and soon, Mama is free from jail, but the vote is not yet won. Another two years pass before the Nineteenth Amendment is added to our constitution.
This great story is an overview of the entire movement, not so much a biography of any one person involved in it.
The Historical Note section at the back of Mama Went to Jail for the Vote tells a bit more about the women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul who organized this movement and withstood its wrath -- dealing with things like six month jail terms, hunger strikes and much condescension.
The illustrations in Mama Went to Jail for the Vote are vivid and engaging depictions of characters with expressive faces and the text, because it is almost entirely dialogue, moves along quite rapidly. I was very pleased to find a story that covers such an important aspect of our history but that tells it from the perspective of a sharp-witted and somewhat incorrigible young girl.
Read more of P.J.'s reviews.
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